Sunday, March 18, 2012

RHOLDRWYG: What was it for??, Part One.

This set of, I think it will be three, posts is about Rollright Stone Circle and the druids. I'm far from my academic and UFO "home turf" here, so caveat emptor, and don't expect too much. I personally will be satisfied if you get a little pleasurable "diversion" from the grind of the day.

The aerial shot above is, of course, the magickal place itself. The photographer did a great job, too.

The subject was, as usual, inspired by my own desperate thrashing around to try to find something interesting yet not overly taxing to cut through my own "grind". I think that the little book above supplied the interest but the path was a lot of work. I acquired this little almost pamphlet-like illumination of the Rollright Stones and it brought back nice memories of an all-too-brief visit there. Go if you can, folks... "Atmosphere" barely does justice to the ring.

So, what is this place? The circle is made of a soft stone unfortunately --- a local oolite limestone which is relatively easily erodible --- great for awesome appearance, but we could have wished for better for durability over the centuries.

The circle stands today in Oxfordshire next to a country road and a farmer's active field. The aerial shot to the left does a magnificent job of showing the area. Just across the road, directly left in the photo, is a tall monolith called the Kings Stone. On a line almost directly towards the top of the picture from the circle [just beyond the photo edge] are a group of large stones leaning into one another, named The Whispering Knights. Most people think that the complex is related piece-to-piece, and the folklore certainly pulls them together.

It's hard to say for sure when these megaliths were erected. Prior to about 1800BC is probably a minimum, and they could easily be part of the Age of the Megaliths which included the raising of the original circles of Stonehenge and Avebury. Whatever their real age, OLD screams out at you while you are in their presence. Neither Stonehenge nor Avebury [and I was duly impressed by both] came close to the instant impact of "WOW" that I had with this place. I realize that this was totally irrational, but real nonetheless. The photograph below gives a rare really fine impression of that "atmosphere".

So, OK, it's an old stone circle. So what? Well, maybe nothing. Maybe something profoundly important. Let's at least take a glance.

It would be helpful if we knew what the place actually looked like when it was intact. We don't and we aren't. We can give some thanks to John Stukeley [the guy above] for helping resurrect interest in the megaliths back in the 1600s, so we have a little glimpse that far.

As the simple drawing at the left shows, Rollright was in disarray even back then. Stones were broken, fallen down, and some hauled away. The drawing itself, though aligned somewhat accurately to the north, gives a wrong impression of a too-cramped space, as some of the gaps in the ring are too small. As this is a bird's-eye view, our sketcher has depended upon artistic imagination to an extent. Still, it's valuable and sets a foundation for understanding of the design.

The sketch below is more careful and ground level. It was made in the late 1800s. It differs, especially in showing the gaps, but also in apparently showing more total stones. Statements have been made that an effort was made to re-erect some stones, and "replace" some by bringing back removed ones. What all that amounted to, who knows? But it cannot give one confidence that every current stone is placed exactly as the builders would have set them, nor that every stone has returned. Part of the pragmatic folklore of the place is that some stones were not only removed but broken. Still, this sketch shows a circle with the axis in the sketch pointing north, perhaps over two of the taller stones, and fairly directly at a megalithic barrow nearby. {C}. The King Stone is at A, and another barrow, called the Arch-druid's Barrow is at B.

So, we've got an extremely old megalithic ring on our hands, sitting in the midst of several other megalithic structures, and Druid legends swarming all about them.
People finally tried to do more disciplined accurate mapping of the place in the early twentieth century. The above is one way of displaying this [from 1920]. When you compare this to the 17th and 19th century drawings, you see more stones and better accuracy on showing the empty places in the ring. It shows you a nearly perfect 100' diameter circle, which is an intriguing number to me at least, but brings home the difficulty of guessing the actual stone-placement design. This next statement is irrational so don't give it much credit: when I've looked at the drawings and the remains [especially the more modern surveys], I have the impression of some rhythm or pattern to the remains, as disrupted as they are. That rhythm "says" to me "four 15s" or "60". And then I read Percival Oakley Hill, the local minister and writer who grew up with the stones, and he said: "The circle, no doubt, consisted of 60 stones". This was despite the broken nature of many of them so that you count in the 70s today.

Sixty.... if true, that would not be accidental. "60" is THE number of the early mathematicians. It is THE arithmetical facilitator; divisible by 2,3,4,5,6,10,12,15,20,30. Powerful, powerful arithmetic tool: the reason why the ancient Mesopotamians settled upon it to divide up the hours and minutes of the day, and the "circle" of the heavens for astronomical and time measurements. One wonders if our megalithic builders were doing the same?

The line sketch above shows the relationship between the ancient circle and the King Stone and the Whispering Knights.

The Knights are nearly due east from the circle, and, though over three football fields away, are easy to see across the relatively flat farmer's field.

They are composed of similar stone as the circle stones with similar weathering. They are falling down, perhaps even moreso during the 19th century, though none of those known to the earliest students have been removed in the meantime. The charming but absurd legend of these stones is that they represent certain certain officers of the army of the King, all of whom were turned to stone by a bad encounter with a witch [who still resides nearby, and herself turned into an elderberry tree]. The stones actually seem the remaining parts of some megalithic building. Whether this was something associated with a burial or not, we can't honestly say. Archaeologists are always claiming that such structures are "tombs", but rarely have that sort of evidence, in my opinion. Let's just leave it with the idea that the building was important to the ancient builders, who expended a serious effort on it.

The sketch above of the Knights shows them as more erect and intimidating. It was made in the 1700s and may indicate a more awesome structure, particularly with a stone "roof" added on. Whatever this thing was it seems important.

Back at the circle, there is at least one stone [maybe there are more, but I found one without looking for any] which has a nicely drilled hole in it, the patina of which looked quite old.

Others have noticed the hole, though I've not found commentary about it. Above and to the left are two "tourist pictures" of the thing findable on the net.

The tourist photos don't seem to be directed anywhere, but my [admittedly dim] memories of my encounter with Rollright say that when I squatted down to look into the stonehole, I found that I was looking across that farmer's field to the east. Now, that's simply true. What MAY NOT be true is my memory that I was looking at the Whispering Knights. [The tourist photo to the left is NOT looking at the Knights, but you can see that it is crooked a little bit sideways, so I'm not sure what the photographer was attempting to show].

If the stonehole does indeed point to the Knights, and if it is indeed old and "original", then this constitutes what we are always calling an "alignment" for a purpose of some kind. And, therefore might be part of the answer as to what Rollright "was for".

The third element of the complex always included and visited by the tourists is the King Stone. [For some reason, the two old stone and earth barrows are rarely talked about.] The King Stone is, of course, the greedy King out to conquer, who runs afoul of the Elderberry Witch and ends up petrified in stride as we see him. Although in the old days, without the intervening trees [and both our early sketches show the King Stone without trees between], the King Stone was very close-by and visible, there is nothing about the current visible structure of the circle which "points" to it. That would be nice, but we don't have such indicators. That doesn't mean that the original intact circle had no such "pointers", just that we cannot claim this.
Percival Oakley Hill, the author of the Temple of the Sun "pamphlet/minibook", however has his own idea. The sketch of the King Stone from the book is above, showing much better detail than typical earlier sketchwork. Hill believes that the flattened area near the top was not only deliberately carved, but was done so to create a "chair" for sitting, complete with carved chairback. He believes that sitting in that chair was part of some circle-related ancient ritual.

So, folks, I'm leaving it for today. This has been the boring old "let's set the basics" post. I hope that it wasn't too bad. Next part I'll try to do better. AND, you'd better come back to read it or the guy above will visit you on Samwain in the dead of night.


  1. The 60 is very significant, because it is possible to divide a circle into 60 equal sectors by geometrical construction alone (don't ask me how, I only a maths professor). So if there were 60 original stones, the makers might have been aiming at an exact subdivision of a circle into 60 sectors of 6 degrees each. Why? Who knows?

  2. This is correct. Pythagoras knew that you could use a single stick to create an equilateral triangle and therefore produce 60-degree angles. You can "walk" this triangle around within a circle of radius of the length of the stick and create a perfect hexagon within that circle. Already you've divided the circle perfectly into six points on the perimeter. You can see how you could continue to elaborate this by dividing the lines between the perimeter points in two and produce 12 perfect separations, etc etc.

    Or to put it another way: Pythagoras was a smart dude. Since, surprisingly, MANY of the ancients believed that HE studied with the Druids, maybe this should not really shock us.

  3. Maybe Hamish Fenton does indeed mind, especially when you can't seem to be bothered to ask to use photographs.

  4. Well folks, the owner of a few of those nice photos of Rollright has objected to this educational and non-profit use of thumbnails of the pictures. That's too bad but I will try to comply and use the technology of the site, if I can manage it, to remove them. This is only the second time that anyone has objected but it is their right and I'll honor that.



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